Escape winter for these sun-drenched destinations
As winter rolls in, escape the dreary grey weather and head to one of the following destinations.
Tropical North Queensland, Australia
Thanks to some competition on the Auckland to Cairns route, flights to North Queensland can be nabbed for about $600 return for dates in August. That month sees the lowest average rainfall around Cairns and Port Douglas, with daily temperatures staying near 26 degrees Celsius and the sea temperature still warm enough for a dip (and you'll avoid pesky box jellyfish season).
Although hiring a car would let you explore the coastline and Daintree National Park at your leisure, you could just take a shuttle transfer to tourist town Port Douglas from the airport for AU$68 return (NZ$71) and use it as a base to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Rooms on Booking.com or whole apartments on Airbnb around Port Douglas in mid-August come in at $900 for the week, putting your flight and room price just over $1000 per person twin share. Fly with Philippines Airways or Air New Zealand.
Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Australia
A more-risky option regarding sunshine, but even one grey day won't cloud the tourist hotspots of the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Almost unbelievably, you can still nab winter school holiday flights from Auckland to Goldie and back out from Brisbane for only $447 a person, flying Air Asia to Coolangatta and back with Emirates. You can then hire a car to tick off the theme parks and wildlife parks of the Gold Coast. House of Travel's Dave Fordyce recommends the family resort of Turtle Beach resort as "one of the best family resorts on the coast, and families flock there. It's affordable, too – seven nights in a two-bedroom apartment will cost around $1100 per family, based on two kids under 11 and two adults," Heading north, foodies can tuck in to Brisbane's Gauge from chef Jerome Batten or walk riverside or through formerly grungy Fortitude Valley, Brissie's oldest entertainment district. Family Airbnb properties, with free parking and near to the CBD, can be snapped up $151 a night during the school break.
Alice Springs, Australia
You want sun? Well, you can't get more sunnier than a large desert town in the middle of the Australia's Red Centre. Late August and early September are a great time to lap up the rays, with the first month of spring offering the lowest rainfall and temperatures pushing 30C. There are amazing and largely untouched national parks to explore, not to mention the iconic Uluru to check out. The downside to this guaranteed week of sun? Flights from Auckland (about $850 return with Qantas) would need at least one stop-off in an East Coast Australian city – maybe two. Also, as you're around 1200km from the sea and the town's Todd river is often dry, your stay will require a pool. However, the remoteness of Alice also means it's a prime spot for hot air ballooning and stargazing. Budget accommodation (double room, private bathroom, pool) for a week in spring is only $500, with something nicer at the Ibis Styles at around $800. Three-day camping trips to Uluru with transport and meals are $390 per person on Expedia.
Cruising the South Seas
P&O Pacific Jewel's 10-night cruise of the South Pacific in September, calling in at Fiji and Tonga, offers great value at $1570 per person for a twin cabin and meals included (careful on the buffet!). You're still in time for the dry season in the South Pacific and can lap up the rays near the ship's pools. Having sailed on this ship before, it's a solid three-star family favourite for a reason, a budget-conscious couple would find the right mix of value inclusions and optional extras, but it's easy to rack up additional costs. The ship calls in to Suva, Port Denarau, Vava'u (a hot-spot for whale-watching) and Nuku'alofa and only docks for about 10 hours at each port, but it's enough to give you a taste of island life.
If you did want to linger in the back-to-basic beach charm of Tonga then flights from Auckland in late July can be as cheap at $410 return with Virgin Australia or Air New Zealand – even better, they aren't at the ridiculous departure and arrival times that often hide behind the on sale airfares. In Tonga, particularly the main island of Tongatapu, the locals are friendly, the fresh seafood good, the beaches less crowded and the surf's up along the western coast near Ha'atafu. Further north, the island chain of Vava'u is one of the best places in the world to swim with (or maybe just near) humpback whales (July to October) but you will need to take an internal flight to get there. If that's not your thing, smaller resort islands off Tongatapu, such as Fafa or Atata Island are great for a few days with a good book, a snorkel and a sun lounger.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
So Tonga looks a little, should we say, rustic? Well, deals for July can still be found to perennial favourite Raro, thanks to the added competition from Jetstar. Return flights leaving in mid July can be yours for $498 with Jetstar – the only let-down being the red-eye overnighter on the way there. House of Travel's Dave Fordyce said: "Raro and Fiji tend to be the family faves, with flights and five nights in Raro costing around $950 per person family share. Both Fiji and Raro sit at around 28C in July and August, perfect for some winter sun in a very child-friendly destination." However, before you purchase your flights, take note of the time zone difference so you don't show up to the airport a day early... or a day late.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Langakawi and the brilliant Perhentian Islands are in closer reach for Kiwis, thanks to low-cost carrier Air Asia. If you can withstand anti-social flight times, minimal inflight entertainment and a pit-stop in Coolangatta then there is a pay-off: Dirt cheap return airfares for the end of July at just under $600 and entry to a South East Asian city which is home to hawkers, succulent street food and the world's cheapest five star hotel chains (a week at the Sheraton for $679 from July 23). Temperatures in the capital in late July top 30C but you're outside of either monsoon season (although afternoon downpours remain common). The beaches of Langkawai or the Perhentian Islands are a quick (and also cheap) domestic flight away. Also, unlike Australian or Pacific island holidays, the added extras (food, transport and activities) are laughably cheap so your total bill can clock in under the sum of a short-haul break.
Los Angeles, US
Flight Centre's Sean Berenson said his travel agency had seen LA bookings "increase by more than 10 per cent and San Francisco almost 40 per cent". Part of that comes down to more flights being added between the US and New Zealand, bringing down the cost. Return flights for a two-week break leaving on July 18 costs just over $1050 return via Aussie with Virgin, or $1500 with American Airlines. Once there, you'll find no shortage of sun, surf and surgically enhanced bodies. A drive north along the coast towards San Fran is worth doing, finding some Californian redwoods on a hike, or just stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame and people-watch along Venice Beach. Airbnb has private rental apartments near the famous shoreline for $150 a night or in plush Beverly Hills for less than $180 per night.